New York – In response to the growing threat to our spiritual well-being, some kehillos and individuals have taken it upon themselves to rid their homes of computers altogether. Leaders of these kehillos have advised their adherents who must use computers for their livelihood to use the devices in places other than their homes.
In response to this, many technology establishments serving frum communities have installed computers available for hourly use. According to Reb Yosef Zev Braver, a technology specialist with iShop, a computer center in Williamsburg, there has been a significant increase in demand for the use of the newly installed high-speed, internet-capable computers.
“There has definitely been an increase, especially by those who have recently gotten rid of their home computers,” Mr. Braver told Hamodia. “Our computers have all the necessary software programs and if we get a request for more, we will try to accommodate [the need].”
In Kiryas Joel, one such center, Komputer Kiosk, has installed eight stations with the latest high-speed fully capable computers. According to Reb Usher Weberman, the manager, the establishment is open 24 hours (except for Shabbos and Yamim Tovim).
“We have separate sections for men and women,” Mr. Weberman told Hamodia. “Not everyone who comes here needs the internet. Some come just to create posters or similar material, or to copy or transfer data. Some come to search and purchase travel tickets, find an address or get travel directions, or simply to save their digital photos.”
Both establishments block unsavory sites, including social media.
At the iShop establishment, one man who tutors for a living told Hamodia, “I do not want this machine in my home, so I find this service extremely useful. I came here today to [prepare] reading material for my students and saved it all on my USB.”
When asked about the concern that customers might inadvertently infect the establishment’s computers, Mr. Braver, the technology maven, responded, “Dealing with viruses is our specialty. That problem is one of the main services we provide. Our computers are very secure and we have not seen any problems, although the system detects many viruses on the USBs of our clients. But I am not concerned at all.”
Indeed, while this writer was visiting, several young people came in to have their USBs checked for viruses. Children and underage boys are not permitted to use the computers.
iShop is also a Torah and music mp3 center, where customers can fill their players with kosher and appropriate audio files.
Mr. Braver told Hamodia that they already have agreements or are close to having agreements with all music distributors to be able to install music on players in a halachically approved way.
“We have many customers who come in and ask to remove copied audio files from their players and ask to pay for them, but up until now, we had no system to do that. We hope that is about to change.”
According to Mr. Weberman, a large percentage of those who use the kiosk’s services are businesspeople who do not wish to have computers at home but occasionally must have remote access to their computers, so they come in for a quick remote access connection to their own system.
“We have the basic office suite system of ‘Office’ and ‘Adobe’; those who must have more sophisticated software usually have it installed at their establishments, so they avail themselves of our high-speed connection to their own fully-loaded computers,” Mr. Weberman explained.
Some people simply need quick access for tasks such as handling their bank accounts, contacting the Department of Motor Vehicles, or simply shopping online.
Both establishments assured me that they treat the privacy concerns of their clients with extreme sensitivity. “The default browsers are set to wipe off all traces of data after a client logs off,” Mr. Braver said.
“Ultimately, it is a matter of trust,” Mr. Weberman told Hamodia. “Once you use somebody else’s [and sometimes your own] computer, you can never be 100% sure that your data is safely private. There can always be workarounds by unsavory technology-savvy people. But people know me; they know who I am and they trust us.”
Both establishments offer informal technical assistance in navigating the computers.
In a dramatic illustration, one customer — a melamed in a cheder in Williamsburg — told Hamodia that he had thrown out his home computer. “I worked on papers that I was preparing for my [students]. My computer was working extremely slowly and I was getting constant pop-ups. I thought that I could increase the speed of my computer by clicking on a link.
“I clicked and it changed my browser to a terrible site. I shut the computer down and got rid of my computer immediately.”
Then he added: “I believe it is better to come to a public place to [fill] your computing needs even without a filter, rather than have one even with a filter at home. The public nature of this establishment is the best protection, more so if it is also filtered,” he concluded.
Reb Yosef Zev Braver, a devout Breslav chassid, listened intently to the melamed’s story and related: “Rebbe Nachman of Breslav teaches that when one stumbles, he can easily make the mistake that, as a result of his failure, he loses his connection to Hashem; that itself is the counsel of the Satan.”
He continued, “A person should always know that the connection to Hashem can never — must never — be severed.”